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Last updateMon, 28 Jan 2013 9pm

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Literal Thinkers

Saying and interpreting it, as it is! What’s wrong with that? We don’t go in for all this double meanings malarkey. We just listen to the words and think they mean what they say. Mostly this is because we can’t do all the subtle hints that someone gives to let us know that they’re only joking. And we sometimes don’t realise that there are words and expressions that don’t mean what they say. Here are some that confuse little junior jellies:


‘Pull your socks up!’ (but I’m wearing tights!)
‘What’s up?’ (my bedroom, my mum’s bedroom and the bathroom)
‘You’re wet behind the ears!’ (I can’t be, I haven’t had a wash)
‘He let the cat out of the bag!’ (was it still alive? It’s so good he did that!)
‘Joe from number 34 just kicked the bucket’ (was he cross with it?)

(OK, I know I’m exaggerating here a bit – but I always do! I’m a jellybean!)

As we get older we understand that some things are just expressions that don’t mean exactly what they say, but everyone knows what they mean. Except us. When we misinterpret them, they think we’re trying to be funny, because that’s what marshmallows do when they’re trying to be funny. They pretend not to know something we all know, and if it goes on and on, it’s a deliberate attempt to wind someone up (Oh look! I know what winding someone up means, even though I get the picture of a big old watch in my head when I say it!). And we get into real trouble because everyone thinks we’re doing it deliberately and taking the Mick (hey! I know what that means, too, but I haven’t got a clue why!) and we get into trouble.

But jelibeans still make a big silly fuss about words that don’t mean what they say. I make a big fuss about ‘wicked’. Why does that have to mean something’s good? It actually means that something’s bad. And why does ‘gay’ not mean happy? And why isn’t calling someone ‘brain-dead’ as offensive as calling someone a ‘retard’, and why do people say they were ‘literally’ anything at all that they don’t mean – like when people say, ‘I was literally hung out to dry!’ No you weren’t, because you’re not a sheet out of the washing machine! Grrrrrrr!

Get two completely literal speakers together and you have instant problems. Luckily for most of us, we do eventually understand that some things are meant as metaphors. It would be a pretty sorry state if everyone literally ran out into the street and jumped in front of a bus, so you see there are certain things that even the boingiest jellybean doesn’t do. Remember though if you do have a serving of ADHD as well we can take things a bit far.

My niece was playing her family up big time and she was told by her dad to get lost forever. OK they weren't serious he was joking.  They didn’t mean pack your bags and leave home! When things had calmed down, everyone  laughed as they unpacked her backpack which weighed a ton and revealed 3 encyclopaedias and a portable CD player without headphones! Oh yes and last week’s bus ticket - no money, toothbrush, pyjamas, toiletries in fact nothing of any use at all.Useless baggage.

Then there’s a friends daughter, bless! jelibean mums and jelibean daughters with similarities in personality can often produce quite volatile situations. Only recently they had had a bit of a spat, She was asked her to leave as the whole house was getting dragged in. She swept out of the door and went into hiding for days.

So what’s the solution? There are no magic solutions except for awareness. Explain calmly and slowly where the misunderstanding is happening and point out more appropriate solutions and actions. And if the language difficulty is becoming really serious, a Speech Therapist may be able to help.